At HCC, students study, worry

Some unaffected by news of president's departure, others fear harm to school

February 15, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

On the ground floor of the Harford Community College student center Friday afternoon, students worked on computers, read next to sun-filled windows and shared stories over lunch.

Little of the conversation centered on the controversy swirling around the college's governance.

For many on the 6,000- student campus, busy with class and often balancing work with school, their questions of the day are more practical: Will there be a tuition increase? Can they expect to find financial aid? Why aren't basketball players getting meal money for away games anymore?

Last week the school's president, Claudia Chiesi, announced her retirement, and a state lawmaker said she plans to introduce a bill to dissolve the board of trustees unless its chairman, Bernard Barnes, resigns.

But those issues seem far removed from everyday student life. When asked about the president's leaving, several students wondered whether the question referred to President Bush.

In a small office near the dining area, however, several Student Government Association members came in and out between classes, voicing their concerns about events of the week and how the issues could negatively affect students.

"We feel the student isn't being heard over the political game," said Heather Westemeyer, 21, a biology and chemistry major from Bel Air.

Kelli Natale, 19, a history major from Whiteford, agreed. "This is a community college. It's meant for higher learning - not for politicians to get a foothold."

When several student government leaders went to Annapolis last week for Advocacy Day to discuss student issues with Harford County's state legislators, they went to talk about tuition and financial aid, said SGA President Joshua Wick.

But the conversation turned to the leadership debates on campus.

Maggie Adams, 19, a political science major from Bel Air, said Republican state Sen. Nancy Jacobs "flat-out said to all of us, if certain members do not step down, that bill [to dissolve the board of trustees] is going in."

Jacobs also assured students that things on the campus were going to improve - which surprised Sarah Cass, 19, a nursing student from Jarrettsville. She said she didn't realize things were so bad.

Cass said she likes Chiesi and the way the president takes an interest in students. "I have a lot of respect for the woman," she said. "It's going to be a different environment after she's gone."

And no one knows how it will be different, which troubles Wick, 21, a general studies major from Bel Air.

"I would feel better if we knew we'd have involvement, and we'd continue to have a voice," he said.

But he said he was encouraged by a campuswide meeting Friday afternoon, held to discuss revival of the faculty and staff councils. He said several faculty members assured students during the meeting that they could approach them, as well as staff and the administration, with issues.

"I applaud them for continually thinking of students," Wick said.

He added that the controversies over leadership are hurting the school because attention is being drawn away from programs and published writers, artists and other talented faculty, staff and students on campus. "We're deviating from a lot of the important stuff that's going on here."

At a tall table by the window in the dining hall, Charity Cook of North East and Liana Feliberty of Aberdeen were wrapping up lunch and a conversation about the leadership fray.

"The whole thing has gotten to be a very negative topic," said Feliberty, 25, a criminal justice and psychology major.

She and Cook, 20, a psychology and sociology major, said they agreed that Chiesi's retirement is a good thing for the campus.

"I don't think she really had a good communication with the students," Cook said, adding that she disagreed with some of the spending she was seeing on campus, especially on new entrance gates.

At a nearby table, two basketball players, Caleb Bradshaw, 18, a political science major from Jarrettsville, and Megan Hanrahan, 19, a general studies major from White Hall, said that last year they got $7 for an away-game meal allowance and stayed overnight for long-distance games.

This weekend, Hanrahan said, the women's team is playing in a tournament in Hagerstown, commuting for the three-day event. Why can the school make repairs and renovations, she asked, but not do more for students?

"They added new gym doors, but they still don't feed us," she said. "I think they're just caring about all the wrong things."

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